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A veteran and his service dog
Dusk licks Chris Riders face, a veteran who suffers PTSD, near their home on Fort Stewart. - photo by Photo by Lewis Levine

It’s not just people who can make a difference in people’s lives.

Animals, even ones stigmatized as dangerous by virtue of their breed, can bring companionship and comfort. Veteran Chris Rider has found both in a pit bull named Dusk that would likely be dead by now if he hadn’t been rescued in March.

Since being paired in July by Canine Battle Buddies, an organization that trains rescue dogs to become service dogs, the two have become inseparable.

Dusk’s path to service dog began in March when he was found by Mieke Wilder of Carpathia Paws. Weighing just 25 pounds, the dog was chained to a tree with a padlock around its neck at a residence on Holmestown Road.

Wilder, who works with the animal rescue organization, approached the dog and found him to be friendly. Leaving food and water for the emaciated animal, Wilder notified Liberty County Animal Control.

Later, Wilder and an animal control officer offered the owner a choice; surrender the dog or face animal cruelty charges. The dog was surrendered to Wilder. She named him Dusk.

Wilder thought Dusk’s temperament and demeanor could make him a service dog for a veteran suffering from PTSD or a traumatic brain injury.

"Our first priority was to rescue him," Wilder said. "And once we did that we saw how excited and friendly he was to be around people, and decided to see if he would be a candidate to become a service dog."

Tony and Patricia Durham with Canine Battle Buddies thought Dusk was a prime candidate.

Patricia Durham said her husband made the determination. Dusk would be placed in the program because of his bonding capabilities.

"Tony is somewhat of a dog whisperer and sees the potential in the dogs whether they’re a good candidate to become a service dog," she said.

Once nursed back to health and at his ideal 80-pound weight, Dusk was placed into Canine Battle Buddies where he was further evaluated and given obedience training before he was assigned to Rider and his family who live on Fort Stewart.

The family’s residence did pose a problem since pit bulls are not allowed in family housing. Rider convinced command to make exception for Dusk as a service dog in training. Once that hurdle was cleared, Rider and Dusk have become partners.

"I still see where he’s fearful of certain objects such as a broom or mob handle when I clean the floor," Rider said. "I don’t know if these objects were used on him or not, but he tends to shy away when they’re in use."

Rider is slowly easing Dusk’s fears with love and kindness. Dusk, on the other hand, helps Rider deal with post traumatic stress disorder which he incurred while on duty in Iraq.

"When I’m around a crowd, I become very anxious and stressed, and Dusk will begin to nuzzle me, causing me to focus on him and not what’s around me," Rider said.

He also thinks Dusk can sense when Rider is going through a stressful episode because he starts licking his face or just nuzzle his ribs, defusing Rider’s anxiety.

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